We face the prime economic challenge of our times across the country, and Eagle County is no different: how do we “build back better” and create an economy that provides enough good jobs so that working households can raise a family and pass on a better opportunity to their children?
Government assistance through the pandemic has been vital to helping people. We support and applaud the efforts of the national and state government to assist during these times. And we give high praise and kudos for the leadership at Eagle County and local towns for their grant programs and stimulus plans to support businesses and people alike. These programs – as good and impactful as they have been, and as needed as they are –cannot supplant the value of a good job.
How do we build a community where the proverbial American Dream is attainable and achievable? Quality of life begins with a good job, and a prosperous community is a place with a broad middle class where wages and benefits allow everyone to pay the bills, save for retirement and the kids’ education, and pass on better opportunities to the next generation.
Across the country, the most prosperous regions share one common characteristic: concentrated talent. The new economic reality is that talent attracts capital, not the other way around. For businesses, talent is the asset that matters most. “Talent” equals a skilled workforce – our people – and recovery requires a focus on people development.
To lead our economic recovery, we must focus on the investment in our people, our human capital. Economic development in Eagle County and our mountain region is not actually about creating jobs or attracting businesses or growing the economy. While these are desired outcomes, what we really need to do is to focus on removing barriers and growing our people (talent).
Growing our talent pipeline and retaining talent in Eagle County is a critical first step in developing and uncovering our hidden human capital. Of course, it does us no good to grow our talent base if our talented workers then flee for other areas. If we are to retain our talent and eventually create a demand for and ability to attract more – a prerequisite for economic growth and business expansion and retention – we must also invest in the types of places where an increasingly mobile workforce wants to live and work. This requires a focus on housing, healthcare, early childhood and other cost of living barriers that have long challenged our region.
Local businesses need local employees; there are important advantages to businesses that are owned by and largely employ local residents. More dollars spent at those businesses stay in the local community. They provide jobs and opportunities and, importantly, amenities for local residents. And, of course, local businesses add more to the character of their communities than national chains, creating the types of places where a globally mobile (location neutral) workforce and, therefore, high-wage businesses want to locate.
Our economic development approach must continue to prioritize the startup and growth of locally owned businesses. The core of this effort is removing barriers to their success by developing an ecosystem to ensure that entrepreneurs have access to the training, funding, and staffing they need. In order to grow and retain business, we need to remain focused on housing and other cost of living challenges. A focus on people development and removing barriers to retention is the roadmap forward to “building back better”.
Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com